The Controversy of the Live Action Little Mermaid Film


DISNEY/GETTY IMAGES of Halle Bailey and Ariel Cartoon side by side.

The live action remake of Disney’s The Little Mermaid is coming out in theaters this May. For context, the animated movie revolves around a rebellious mermaid who trades her voice in exchange for human legs to find her true love on land. This iconic Disney classic is adored by both children and adults. 

Though many love the original animation, there has been much opposition toward the casting of the live-action film; more specifically, the actress playing Princess Ariel. The controversy revolves around the character’s race. In the original movie, Ariel is white. However, in the remake, she is played by Halle Bailey, a black 22-year-old actress and singer. 

Before the animated movie was made, many people’s perceptions of mermaids and merfolk were different from the innocent red-headed mermaid that most are familiar with now. Legends and myths tell that merfolk were awful sirens who drew sailors’ attention with their voices to drown them. Regarding race, they were always portrayed as either White, Greek, or African merfolk.

On Twitter, some argue that Ariel shouldn’t be black, tweeting “#NOTMYARIEL.” This hashtag went viral, causing negative propaganda for the film. Regardless, there are people who support a diverse casting. Kelly Ziegler, the drama teacher directing Riviera Preparatory’s production of The Little Mermaid this year, said “I don’t see anything wrong with a woman of color playing the role of Ariel. I think it’s an interesting take on it. Because mermaids: do they have a certain race? Not really. A lot of people grew up with this movie and it was their childhood. I feel like people are afraid of change and when they see something that looks different from what they are used to, it makes them uncomfortable.” 

Other than the topic of Bailey’s race, there have been comments that she is not talented or experienced enough for the role. In the past, she has partnered with Disney in Let It Shine, where she played a supporting role. She has also worked with Beyonce to add lib (chorus) in her music. 

Because directors sometimes cast celebrities with more fame than talent, it is a relief to see that they cast someone who is not well-known but talented. Several celebrities are put in roles that should be given to others who are more suited for the character. Counselor Marie Carballo, whose daughter has been in several shows, says, “I’m gonna be completely honest with you, I kinda get mad at Hollywood when they put in [actors] because they’re famous into musicals and they can’t sing. Like give it to the people who can sing, give it to the true actors who can sing. I’m glad that they picked someone who’s super talented.”

Those complaining about the color of the actor’s skin and talent likely do not realize that this casting choice inspires people of color all over the world. For instance, Halle Bailey’s grandparents said, “You don’t understand what this is doing for us, for our community, for all the little black and brown girls who are going to see themselves in you,” (Variety Magazine).

Regardless of how the public may feel about this new Little Mermaid, she is here to stay.

Walt Disney Studios via YouTube “Part of Your World”